Listening to growers
7 December 2021
One of Horticulture New Zealand’s primary roles is to advocate for growers and in doing so, support the horticulture industry’s long-term prosperity. To do that effectively, we must really understand the interests of all growers and, after careful analysis of that understanding, advocate in the best interests of all our industry – be it fruit, vegetable, big corporate, a small family run operation, export or domestic.
Three times a year, the horticulture industry comes together by way of the Horticulture Industry Forum (HIF) but this year, we could only come together twice due to Covid. The HIF met last Thursday and to set the scene for the meeting, we heard from several growers – by way of short videos – about what is exercising their minds, short and more long term. You can view those videos here.
You can see that many of the concerns are universal however there are nuanced differences, depending on the part of the industry in which the grower is anchored. Labour is a big concern, but growers are thankful for what the industry collective has achieved, even if it is never going to be enough.
Climate change, freshwater and land use, and the rate of change in those areas along with the increasing cost of compliance are also a major concern. The plea to the Government is – ‘we support the need to do better but come and see us to understand the realities of growing so we can work together on solutions that are win-win’.
By working together in this way, the horticulture industry will be able to ensure that the environment is improved, while New Zealand and the world get to enjoy some of the best fruit and vegetables in the world.
Growers’ long-term perspectives are also outlined in the videos. They include inflation, rising interest rates, massive supply chain disruptions, increasing energy costs and on-going labour issues across both highly skilled and seasonal labour.
Lastly, growers are aware that consumers will pay a premium for our excellent produce but only to a certain point. Ironically, consumers will pay for alcohol, cigarettes and junk food at increasing price points, but expect healthy fruit and vegetables to be kept within a range that has existed for decades now. This means growers are continually forced to try and reduce the cost of production, which is an impossible reality in this inflationary environment. That is why growers also ask that the Government has some understanding of these impossible tensions.
In mid-November, at a GoHort gathering in Christchurch, HortNZ informally surveyed growers about what concerns them the most – right now and in the future. Labour is the biggest concern now and compliance, the biggest concern for the future.
In terms of labour, HortNZ via GoHort and PickNZ, and various fruit product groups have stepped up their attraction and retention programmes for both seasonal and permanent staff. But with unemployment at a record low, it is going to be tough, and growers will need to cooperate to use available labour as effectively as possible.
In terms of compliance, our vision is still ‘one auditor up the drive’ and a common-sense approach to achieving what is needed, in terms of environmental protection, food safety, and health, safety and wellbeing.
We see the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) schemes as the solution that is already in place, albeit with some adaption to reflect new requirements. That is why it is good to see Environment Canterbury and Gisborne District Council recognising GAP schemes for growers in those areas. We are also working with Tasman District Council for growers on the Waimea Plans, where there are water quality challenges.
Which takes me back to where I started with this column. Listening to growers, gaining a clear understanding of their concerns and needs, and then working in partnership with growers, central and local Government on win-win solutions. Working collaboratively, we can achieve wins in the environment space as well as in terms of the health of the economy and the health of New Zealanders, at a time when most people are under pressure, growers being no exception.